18 Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.19 Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them.20 Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.21 Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.22 Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord.23 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men,24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.25 For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality.4 Masters, treat your bondservants justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.
Our society entertains a notion of equality in which all social and familial roles should be leveled, without any gradiation. So Paul’s instructions in Colossians 3 will run against the grain of this present age, in particular that wives submit to their husbands, and that servants obey to their masters, which might correspond to today’s relationship between workers and management. But Paul’s appeal is not to the hierarchy of the social order of his day;he indicates that submission is “fitting in the Lord,” and we ought to obey as “fearing the Lord.”Lest we miss the point that all of the relationships discussed are to be pursued with an eye toward our relationship with the Him, the Lord is mentioned by name six times in these nine short verses.
The roles of husbands and masters have been abused in the past and still are today. Paul knew that, too, but he doesn’t do away with the roles. Rather, he gives instructions how they are to be fulfilled in accordance with the Lord’s will. Paul commands that men love their wives and not be harsh. Submission, then, is not yielding to oppression. Masters, too, are to be just and fair in their treatment of their servants, realizing that they are models of their Master in heaven. They should treat those who work for them in imitation of how the Lord might treat them, for they will have to answer to Him. Even if the other party fails in the way they are called to behave, we should do our part. We deal with the Lord and He will deal with them.
Finally, Paul teaches that obedience shouldnot be “by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord (v. 22).” This truth applies in family as well as work relationships. The love and tenderness of husbands, the encouragement of fathers, the justice and fairness of masters should be sincere, too, reflecting the character of Christ.
Finally, the motivation is not to earn the Lord’s favor, but to reflect gratitude for what He has already done on the cross and promised in glory. We know this because of the summary command Paul gives: “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward (vv. 23-24).” This is not an inheritance of works, but is “the inheritance of the saints of light (1:12).” So we submit, love, obey, encourage, serve and practice justice because“ He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”